They don’t wanna hear that "Ra-ra’ garbage
A blessing came to me last night in the form of a bald-headed bartender with a broad-shouldered grin. I was sitting at the counter in Pepi’s Gasthof Gramshammer, racking my brain for something to write about this year’s Olympics. I’ve watched a grand total of two vaults by male gymnasts, and have seen nothing else of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Shawn Hogan offered me a free glass of wine, which I refused, but I did ask him for some opinions. The sports fan from Pennsylvania gave them freely and with eager precision.
“The best thing I’ve ever seen in sports is the 1980s Olympic hockey team,” said Hogan. “That is still one of the best memories I have; just watching it every night with my mom. And, those guys did something beyond amazing. I still get goose bumps when I see the highlights of it.”
Hogan is Pirates fan and a Steelers fan. He graduated from University of California at Riverside, which is located 100 miles east of Los Angeles in “the arm pit of Southern California.” He follows basketball, hockey and football. He likes the effort that college athletes display as opposed to the business-as-usual attitude of professionals.
“I definitely feel like they’re going through the motions a lot of the time,” said Hogan, who played tight end and defensive end through high school. “These guys are making so much money now that they’re not going to have a connection to their fans or to their city. The Olympic (men’s) basketball team is a great example. More was expected of them, effort-wise, than they were willing to give.”
That 2004 U.S. Olympic basketball team earned third place.
The Pepi’s wait staff provided constant entertainment during my conversation with Hogan.
Monalisa, a bubbling gossip queen with bright eyes and a dirndl, interrupted first with a story about a fellow employee who drank too much on Friday night, fell down and broke her tooth causing her to miss work Saturday. Then she told us about Johnson, who has been told by Sheika Gramshammer that he can no longer drink alcohol on his own time.
“She’s like, “These young kids don’t know how to drink,'” said Monalisa.
Red Dog, who also tends the bar at Pepi’s, carried on with Hogan about the nature of a certain regular customer’s drinking habits.
“He drinks whatever’s put in front of him,” said Red Dog of a man who tends to order margaritas.
Hogan and Red Dog laughed about the man who would undoubtedly be searching for his lost shaker of salt by the end of the evening.
Hogan laughs a lot, but he doesn’t like to laugh at other people’s misfortunes. However, many of his football coaches may have enjoyed watching other people suffer.
“I played through high school. I almost walked on for college, but I got tired of playing because I didn’t enjoy the idiots that kind of pervaded coaching,” said Hogan.
Hogan’s football teammates also tended to be relatively thoughtless males.
“I felt like there were a lot of meat heads – guys who were just the stereotypical jocks that didn’t think about things before they did ’em,” said Hogan. “They generally acted like clowns.”
Aside from the United States’ NBA basketball players, Hogan does not feel like there are any athletes that can be categorized as “clowns.”
“You have to be more dedicated for the Olympics. I don’t put any other athletes in the category that football players often are,” said Hogan. “In so many high schools and colleges, football players completely run the school. At the high school I went to, football players very much thought they should have the girls, the easy classes and we weren’t even good. Our water polo teams, our soccer teams were in the state playoffs every year. And these guys thought that just because they played football they were the kings of the school.”
Hogan attended fairly wealthy schools.
“I definitely got the feeling that these kids were so used to getting whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. I don’t want to say it’s completely an American problem, but it’s a rich American problem,” said Hogan. “Unfortunately, that’s the way a lot of the world looks at it. You have the people, whom they consider to be stereotypically American, who could just be the affluent people that are able to visit other countries – like the ugly Americans and everything. So, they (the rest of the world) don’t get to know real Americans – people who don’t have a sense of entitlement and people who have paid their own way through life.”
A vast majority of the people who work with Hogan at the Austrian restaurant were born and raised outside of the United States. Hogan has been surprised by the way the 2004 Olympics have been televised.
“In 1984, when I lived in Los Angeles, the Olympics were completely, 100-percent, American-centric. And this Olympics, I’ve seen plenty of television that the Americans weren’t even in at all. They’ve showed a lot more of sports that might be considered obscure in America,” said Hogan.
The USC vs. Virginia Tech football game was playing in the background during our conversation.
“I think Pete Carroll is a much better college coach than he was a pro coach. He has the enthusiasm that I think the pros kind of tune-out,” said Hogan. “The pros don’t wanna hear the “Ra-ra’ garbage. They know they have a job to do.”
The professionally-oriented United States Olympic presence has garnered 100 medals, and leads the closest overall competitor, Russia, by 16 medals, and leads China by three golds.
A man in slacks and loafers passes us on his way to the bathroom.
“Who’s losing?” he asked.
Hogan estimates that the average Pepi’s customer spends at least $10,000 a year dining out.
Johnson enters from the hotel lobby; a vision at the end of the bar, 6-feet-3 inches with long hair.
“Johnson, you’re not allowed to have a shot,” said Monalisa.
Johnson smirked at her, put his hands in his pockets and strolled toward the front door with an empty pint glass.
When I asked Badger, a waiter at Pepi’s, to sum up the Olympics in one sentence, he said: “It’s about the little girls who run around on the mats and do floor exercises.”
Badger does not think of American football.
Thelma, a waitress, says the Olympics are all about Thelma. Thelma said that she doesn’t think at all.
A group of customers walk through the bar toward an empty table, and I have Hogan to myself again. Hogan used to work at the Hyatt, which he enjoyed because many interns came to work there from places like Malaysia and Croatia.
“They were some of the first people I met. I was great meeting other people and hearing what they think about America,” said Hogan. “I just asked them, “Well, why are you here?’ And they were here to be among the people, and not to look at America as an overall entity, like the way we used to see the Soviet Union.”
Hogan has lived in the valley for nine years.
“If you do actually follow sports closely – read all the magazines and stuff – you can become very disillusioned,” says Hogan. “But, there are times when you can get carried away just watching these things. I’m in fantasy football now, which is kind of geeky and everything, but it actually makes me enjoy the NFL more. I used to just care about Steelers games, and didn’t really watch the other games. I watch everything now.
“Sometimes sports can take you somewhere else. Watching somebody do something that they’re one of the two or three best people in the world at, is an amazing thing.”
Andrew Harley can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or at email@example.com.